CARRIE JONES IS POOR. In the past, she’s been homeless. She’s getting by today in Roseburg on $2,000 per month. But the army veteran can’t shop in secondhand stores. No Goodwill. No Salvation Army.
“As soon as I walk in there, I can smell that, you know, that musky man smell, and I have to get out,” she says. “It just brings it all back.”
Following the first assaults in Texas—the showers and the pornography—Jones talked first to other women (military police) on the base. They discouraged her from reporting the abuse. Women who spoke up, they warned, were shipped off to other bases or out of the military altogether. Jones feared losing her military career. (A 2003 study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine confirms her fears, finding sexual assault often affected—and sometimes ended—women’s military careers because the victims transferred units or bases as a result, or gave up on the military altogether.) But she wasn’t deterred.
“I went to my sergeant, to the first sergeant, to the company commander, and they were very blunt,” she recalls. “They told me I’d make it harder for the women that came behind me.”
After the gang rape, Jones asked for a transfer. A gifted musician with a degree in music, she was shipped off to the First Cavalry band. But a year later, the discovery of a Russian tank with chemical weapons prompted her transfer back to her original unit for a potential mission. The assaults began anew. Even after the attack in the barn, Jones remained determined to stay in the army, believing that if she needed to, she could report the abuse to the III (Third) Corps, a kind of oversight body for the base. But that required alerting her CO.
“So when he raped me,” she recalls, “I knew they had me.”
Today every military base appoints a sexual assault response coordinator (SARC), who arranges treatment and support for victims without notifying their command. But the victim’s command must be informed to initiate an investigation. In 2010, 2,554 service members were investigated for sexual assault; though not all cases have been decided, so far 801 have received some kind of disciplinary action.
“The single factor that keeps coming up from these stories is that it really seems dependent on leadership,” says Hall. “If they have a strong leader who doesn’t tolerate it, there won’t be any tolerance in the unit.”
Broken, Jones used up her leave and quietly left the job. Three binders of paperwork, each three inches thick, documenting her hospital stays from various assaults went with her.
“But if I could have found someone that could have helped me, I would have stayed for 20 years,” she says. “[The work] was very self-satisfying, like you were doing something that meant something.”
Instead, Jones spent the next 35 years wandering between Reno, Las Vegas, and Utah, changing homes every year. She stopped talking to her siblings, picked fights with her coworkers, and went on capricious spending sprees. She didn’t date, maintained very few friendships, and flew into violent rages, once throwing her furniture out of a second-story window. She never told anyone about what happened in the army. It was a far cry from the ebullient 20-something who’d joined the military. But isolating behavior is one of the hallmarks of PTSD.
“It affects the victims socially and occupationally,” MST counselor Fry explains. “On the job, they look like they’re very competent, but when they leave the job, how has life been? What kind of relationships are they having? Can they connect with a significant other?”
Jones wants to believe that the abuse she experienced in the army would not happen to the young people serving today, that officers in charge would no longer tolerate the behaviors that caused her post-traumatic stress disorder. But the stories she hears—some from women who have served in current conflicts—in her Roseburg VA support group tell her otherwise.
“I know that women in the military are still sexually abused,” she says. “And I still think if it’s officers who do it, it just gets swept under the rug.”
Sharing her own experience with military sexual abuse is, for Jones, both therapy and advocacy. She can’t go back and change the events that unfolded in the Texas desert. But if she could talk to that scared, shaken 21-year-old, she would tell her one thing, the same thing she tells young servicewomen and veterans today: “Say something. Do not keep quiet.”
Additional reporting by Eleanor R. Brown